Letters on Literature

Letters on Literature

第70章 Volume 2(34)

He was a self-educated man,and in after-life rose to high distinctions in the Church to which he devoted himself--an act which proves the sincerity of spirit with which these verses were written.

'When moonlight falls on wave and wimple,And silvers every circling dimple,That onward,onward sails:

When fragrant hawthorns wild and simple Lend perfume to the gales,And the pale moon in heaven abiding,O'er midnight mists and mountains riding,Shines on the river,smoothly gliding Through quiet dales,'I wander there in solitude,Charmed by the chiming music rude Of streams that fret and flow.

For by that eddying stream SHE stood,On such a night I trow:

For HER the thorn its breath was lending,On this same tide HER eye was bending,And with its voice HER voice was blending Long,long ago.

Wild stream!I walk by thee once more,I see thy hawthorns dim and hoar,I hear thy waters moan,And night-winds sigh from shore to shore,With hushed and hollow tone;But breezes on their light way winging,And all thy waters heedless singing,No more to me are gladness bringing--I am alone.

'Years after years,their swift way keeping,Like sere leaves down thy current sweeping,Are lost for aye,and sped--And Death the wintry soil is heaping As fast as flowers are shed.

And she who wandered by my side,And breathed enchantment o'er thy tide,That makes thee still my friend and guide--And she is dead.'

These lines I have transcribed in order to prove a point which I have heard denied,namely,that an Irish peasant--for their author was no more--may write at least correctly in the matter of measure,language,and rhyme;and I shall add several extracts in further illustration of the same fact,a fact whose assertion,it must be allowed,may appear somewhat paradoxical even to those who are acquainted,though superficially,with Hibernian composition.The rhymes are,it must be granted,in the generality of such productions,very latitudinarian indeed,and as a veteran votary of the muse once assured me,depend wholly upon the wowls (vowels),as may be seen in the following stanza of the famous 'Shanavan Voicth.'

'"What'll we have for supper?"

Says my Shanavan Voicth;

"We'll have turkeys and roast BEEF,And we'll eat it very SWEET,And then we'll take a SLEEP,"Says my Shanavan Voicth.'

But I am desirous of showing you that,although barbarisms may and do exist in our native ballads,there are still to be found exceptions which furnish examples of strict correctness in rhyme and metre.

Whether they be one whit the better for this I have my doubts.In order to establish my position,I subjoin a portion of a ballad by one Michael Finley,of whom more anon.The GENTLEMAN spoken of in the song is Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

'The day that traitors sould him and inimies bought him,The day that the red gold and red blood was paid--Then the green turned pale and thrembled like the dead leaves in Autumn,And the heart an'hope iv Ireland in the could grave was laid.

'The day I saw you first,with the sunshine fallin'round ye,My heart fairly opened with the grandeur of the view:

For ten thousand Irish boys that day did surround ye,An'I swore to stand by them till death,an'fight for you.

'Ye wor the bravest gentleman,an'the best that ever stood,And your eyelid never thrembled for danger nor for dread,An'nobleness was flowin'in each stream of your blood--My bleasing on you night au'day,an'Glory be your bed.

'My black an'bitter curse on the head,an'heart,an'hand,That plotted,wished,an'worked the fall of this Irish hero bold;God's curse upon the Irishman that sould his native land,An'hell consume to dust the hand that held the thraitor's gold.'

Such were the politics and poetry of Michael Finley,in his day,perhaps,the most noted song-maker of his country;but as genius is never without its eccentricities,Finley had his peculiarities,and among these,perhaps the most amusing was his rooted aversion to pen,ink,and paper,in perfect independence of which,all his compositions were completed.It is impossible to describe the jealousy with which he regarded the presence of writing materials of any kind,and his ever wakeful fears lest some literary pirate should transfer his oral poetry to paper--fears which were not altogether without warrant,inasmuch as the recitation and singing of these original pieces were to him a source of wealth and importance.I recollect upon one occasion his detecting me in the very act of following his recitation with my pencil and I shall not soon forget his indignant scowl,as stopping abruptly in the midst of a line,he sharply exclaimed:

'Is my pome a pigsty,or what,that you want a surveyor's ground-plan of it?'

Owing to this absurd scruple,I have been obliged,with one exception,that of the ballad of 'Phaudhrig Crohoore,'to rest satisfied with such snatches and fragments of his poetry as my memory could bear away--a fact which must account for the mutilated state in which I have been obliged to present the foregoing specimen of his composition.

It was in vain for me to reason with this man of metres upon the unreasonableness of this despotic and exclusive assertion of copyright.I well remember his answer to me when,among other arguments,I urged the advisability of some care for the permanence of his reputation,as a motive to induce him to consent to have his poems written down,and thus reduced to a palpable and enduring form.

'I often noticed,'said he,'when a mist id be spreadin',a little brier to look as big,you'd think,as an oak tree;an' same way,in the dimmness iv the nightfall,I often seen a man tremblin'and crassin' himself as if a sperit was before him,at the sight iv a small thorn bush,that he'd leap over with ase if the daylight and sunshine was in it.An'that's the rason why I think it id be better for the likes iv me to be remimbered in tradition than to be written in history.'

Andrew Lang